June 6, 2013

INN statement on vote to evict Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from University of Wisconsin-Madison

WSJ editorial on WCIJ - 1500px

WSJ editorial on WCIJ - 1500pxInvestigative News Network CEO Kevin Davis expressed disappointment and concern over the vote by the Wisconsin State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to evict a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative journalism center from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The committee voted early this week to amend the proposed state budget to prohibit theWisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from continuing to use two offices rent free at the university. In exchange, the Center provides internships and education to journalism students. The proposed amendment also forbids university employees from working with the center.

Davis said the vote attempts to wrongly limit freedom of speech and of the press, but that it is most harmful to students and their education.

"The fact is, if the Center is forced off campus it will continue its work," he said. "It is the students first who will be deprived of opportunities for practical education."

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is a 501(c)(3) educational institution that informs the public on issues of civic and democratic life. As a pioneering nonprofit news source, the Center's work is vital at a time when commercial newsrooms are struggling in Wisconsin and nationwide, Davis noted.

"We are puzzled by this proposal, and concerned about its impacts," Davis said. "Attempts to suppress or limit the Center not only undermine the educational experience offered by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but also the level and quality of civic information available to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin."

Two INN board members, Brant Houston and Chuck Lewis, also serve on the Wisconsin Center's board of directors.

Houston, the Knight Chair of Investigative Reporting at the University of Illinois, noted this is not the first time a legislature has tried to exert control over a journalism school's operations.

In 2002, lawmakers in Missouri voted to cut $500,000 in funding for the University of Missouri system. The cuts were linked to a policy by the university-owned NBC affiliate KOMU-TV of forbidding news anchors from wearing symbols of any kind. The policy aimed to avoid any improper appearance of influence, but included a ban on patriotic pins and buttons, which stirred passions in post-Sept. 11 America.

The punitive cut was later reduced to $100,000, according to the American Journalism Review.

"Periodically, legislatures and governments forget the fundamental need for a free and vibrant press and for freedom of speech on campuses," Houston said. "As discussion on this proposal continues, I hope the legislature will find a way to reverse this radical and troubling proposal."

The Center, as an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, collaborates with partners in mainstream and ethnic news media to improve the quality and quantity of investigative journalism in Wisconsin. Its articles have provided in-depth coverage of government institutions, including the University of Wisconsin system that houses it.

The Center operates in two small offices in Vilas Communication Hall -- used by its four-member professional staff and four UW-Madison reporting interns -- under a Facilities Use Agreement that requires the Center to provide paid internships, classroom collaborations, guest lectures and other educational services.

This strategic positioning within the UW-Madison academic community creates a unique learning experience for student journalists, who work with the Center and its partners in defining a new future for ethical, civic-minded watchdog journalism.



Contact Wisconsin legislative leaders. Let them know that you support the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism, and that the Center should remain in its offices at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kevin Davis, (818) 582-3533
CEO, Investigative News Network